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University of Southern California
University of Southern California
USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
USC Chan Division of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
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How to go to OT grad school after being out of school for a long time — Step 1


September 21, 2021


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I’m changing careers to be an OT, help, what do I do?
So, after deciding you want to be an OT, you are daunted by the prospect of making it happen. You say to yourself, “Dude, I want to be an occupational therapist, but I have to go back to school — and it’s been sooo long.” Your brain continues with more self-doubt by saying, “Maybe it’s too late, I won’t be able to afford it? Besides, I was an art history major and studied some science, but that was in 2010 and I don’t remember any of it. I don’t have time to take all of these classes again and then graduate school!” Or you’re thinking, I’m ready, it’s time to make this happen. In either case, you just need some sort of road map of what it will take to go back to school. For me, I had no road map. I knew no occupational therapists who were recent grads, except for that one who became a regular at my bar (see my last blog) but that was after I started the process. So, I was left to internet searches and a few somewhat impersonal informational sessions at a few graduate schools (USC was not one of the ones that were impersonal — Thanks, Dr. Nxumalo and Dr. Bennett!).

If you are like I was (changing careers) and are trying to figure out how to go to OT grad school, I’ll be spending the next few blogs talking about my experience of going back to school. Hopefully reading these blogs will give you some helpful tips on what steps to take. However, please note these steps are what I did, and what worked for me. They are in no way the only way to get yourself to OT graduate school. Find what works for you.

Step 1: Taking pre-requisite classes so you can apply to graduate school

After making the decision that I wanted to be an OT and finding out about needing to go to graduate school to get a license, I went down the rabbit hole investigating what the requirements were to apply to graduate school. (Perhaps a similar search has caused you to land on this page.) Unfortunately, my liberal arts degree from the 90s was not going to be enough. One key thing I kept seeing on graduate school websites was there were a bunch of classes I needed to take, but because I had a liberal arts degree, I did not take most of those classes. Also, for the one or two classes, I did take, because I took them when I was in college more than 7 years ago, I would need to take them again . . . bummer. Most schools require the pre-requisite classes to be taken anywhere from 5 years to 10 years before attending graduate school. USCs requirement is you need to have taken your pre-requisites within 7 years of enrollment.

So, what classes do you need to take to apply to OT graduate school? Most OT grad schools but not require: Anatomy, Physiology, Abnormal Psychology, Developmental Psychology, Anthropology or Sociology, and some sort of medical terminology class and sometimes Statistics. Interestingly, one graduate school I thought about applying to, not USC, required all applicants to have taken Chemistry and Physics. Chemistry and Physics? No offense to chemists and physicists but no thank you!

Find the pre-requisites to apply to the USC Entry-Level OTD with links to possible courses.

Once I knew what pre-requisites most OT graduate schools required, I began to think about where I could take classes for the least amount of money. I just couldn’t afford to spend that much money on classes, and my wife was already a bit wary of this midlife career change and its impact on our finances and time. (How to make the change from a working adult to student and adjust your finances and time to attend graduate school will be coming up in Step 3 and 4.)

For me, the most logical way to complete my pre-requisites was going to community college. (Big shout out to LaGuardia Community College and LACC!) It was affordable, I was also able to complete all the prerequisites for approx. $50 a credit, and it offered me the most flexibility around scheduling so that I could continue to work full-time. I was able to get online classes, and weekend and evening classes. Also, because many community colleges are on a quarter system, I was able to take more classes in a shorter amount of time. In addition, it was a great way to slowly get back into going to school and not feel totally overwhelmed. For me, I hadn’t been to school in a very long time . . . scary. I was able to start slowly by taking one class per semester. I was able to complete all of my pre-requisites in less than two years. However, in the midst of that, I did eventually start working a part-time job which freed up more time to double up on classes and accelerate completion . . . more on that in my next few blogs.

One thing to remember if you decide to go to community college is to complete your pre-requisites. Make sure to register for Anatomy and Physiology classes early. They often fill up very quickly because most if not all health profession graduate schools require applicants to take these classes. They are very much in demand and can be closed on the first day of registration.

You might be saying, as I did, “Why do I have to take all of these classes. It seems like so much time and money! I’ve already got a college degree, isn’t that enough?”

Well kind of but after being in graduate school for a little more than a year now, I understand the reason and value of taking all of these pre-requisite courses. Yes, my college degree and your college degree probably gave you important skills needed to handle the academic rigor of graduate school, however, these pre-requisite courses provided me with an important base of knowledge specific to occupational therapy, and I find that this knowledge comes up almost every day I’m in graduate school. In fact, all of the classes that I have taken in graduate school have at some point referred back to things I learned in each of those pre-requisite courses. Just yesterday something from my developmental psych class came up . . . Albert Bandura and social learning theory anyone? . . . and that DCML pathway I learned about in my physiology class comes up all of the time, who knew how important that would be to so much of what OTs do on a daily basis!

So, hop on it, and get ‘em done!

Good luck with your pre-requisites and welcome back to school if you just started taking your pre-requisites or are currently taking them.